Sunday, February 1, 2009

When does it become official?

Nothing shakes up a first-place team like the words "Goalie Controversy".

All season long, Claude Julien has artfully dodged the obvious conflict between having two starters. To watch or listen to Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez, they're the best of friends and simply enjoying their experience as co-number-ones. Everyone's acted the consummate professional -- Julien has shown no preference for either goalie, both have played well and stayed polite, and the Bruins have surged into an uncontested first-place position.

Wasn't all of this supposed to get easier when the deadlock was broken, and the Bruins had a clear-cut #1 again?

When Manny succumbed to nagging back issues just before the All-Star break, Thomas stepped in for 8 consecutive starts, ringing up an impressive 5-1-2 record against stiff competition. According to the playbook, this is where Timmy was supposed to take full control of the #1 position, and Manny was supposed to assume the role of reliable backup for the stretch run. Manny might sulk a bit, but he would be gone either at the March trade deadline or during the summer. Meanwhile he could be counted on to take over if Thomas were injured or rattled during the playoffs.

Enter Tuukka Rask.

Rask, who outperformed every other goaltender during Bruins training camp last fall, is the Bruins' answer to Carey Price -- young, talented, fully developed and simply waiting for his destiny to arrive. He is the future, 13 years junior to both Fernandez and Thomas and already playing at their level. For the past two seasons the Bruins have promised him the starting position as soon as the Thomas/Fernandez dynamic is resolved.

Rask upped the ante during yesterday's matinee against the Rangers.. With Fernandez in the press box and Thomas exhausted from 8 straight starts, the rookie stopped 35 shots for a 1-0 victory in his first NHL appearance in over a year. It was more than a promise of things to come; it laid down a mandate to Bruins management to clear up their goaltending situation immediately. Suddenly, the future is now for a team stocked with young talent and a salary-cap bubble about to burst.

So, perhaps it's time to make it official: the Bruins have a goalie controversy. Tim Thomas is an All-Star, a Vezina candidate, and a fan favorite. Fernandez is a former Jennings winner and has been a top-10 netminder all season -- but is injured and a potential time bomb in the locker room. Rask is a would-be Calder candidate, a legitimate NHL starter and the future of the franchise. All three are circling around the starting position in Boston, but at least one will be the odd man out.

How does Peter Chiarelli break the deadlock? He has three options:
1) Trade or waive Fernandez before the March deadline, clearing $4 million in cap space that could be used to pursue a rental player. Move Rask into the backup spot for the rest of the season, and use Thomas as a "mentor" figure for the next couple of seasons as Rask takes on the starting role.
2) Reassign Rask to Providence, and risk the psychological fallout of sending a young goaltender back to the minors after 2 years of promises that he could play himself into the starting position in Boston. Continue to rotate Thomas and Fernandez during the stretch run, and let them hash it out in contract negotiations this summer to see who stays and who goes.
3) Reassign Rask to Providence, with the explicit promise that he will start next season. Let both Thomas and Fernandez walk in the offseason, and use the roughly $4 million savings to secure long-term contracts for RFAs Phil Kessel and David Krejci.

If you were Chiarelli for a day, which would you choose?

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Unknown said...

Why stir up trouble when there is none there to stir up?

While we've got manny/thomas up in Boston until the end of the year, Tuuka will get plenty of practice in Providence. I'd rather he get playing time than ride the pine.

I don't think it's that big of a deal. The defense helps the goalie out, they've got a good system, they're winning. A whole lot of OMG LOCKER ROOM CANCER becomes water under the bridge while they're winning.

The Bastahd said...

I gotta lean strongly towards #2. Way I look at it, Rask is still young and has to understand how the system works... he will get his chance to show his stuff next year.

Also, not sure there is enough of a gain to be made to justify trading Manny. After all, what are we gonna get for the guy? Not too much I would imagine and all we would want is expiring contracts, young players or picks, all valuable commodities. Compare that to the risk of damaging team chemistry and I am just not in favor.

jamestobrien said...

(Keeping in mind this is a Boston outsider here ...)

The Bruins should at least take a look at what Fernandez could yield them. Overall, though, most teams in the NHL would kill to have ALL of the Bruins problems: three starting goalies, young promising players going into RFA status ... not going to have too much sympathy from most NHL GMs with those "problems."